David Lashbrooke on a new Reformation

In the film Schindler’s List Oscar Schindler raises the capital for the enamel works by promising his Jewish backers pots and pans to trade on the black market and in the infamous Krakow Ghetto. Originally, when Schindler floats this business proposal to an accountant, Itzhak Stern, Itzhak stares at Schindler in disbelief and is quite categorical in his assessment that no-one he knew would be interested in such a preposterous business plan. Schindler’s poignant reply is ‘They should be Itzhak Stern, they should be.’

Since appearing, all but briefly, on the BBC’s Six O’clock News as an opponent of the proposed move by The Church of England to ordain women to the episcopate I have received some very interesting comments, some even printable! A common and interesting theme has been that the person in the pew is not interested in the theological and ecclesiological problems that face the church over this move to ordain women to the episcopate. Reflecting on the merits of that particular view led to my recalling that poignant scene at the beginning of the Holocaust, and the words ‘they should be’.

‘They should be’ because The Church of England is, though imperceptive to many, hurtling down a new, liberal inspired reformation which, like the 16th century Reformation, is full of mistrust, persecution and behaviour totally devoid of Christian love and consequently far removed from the Christ of the Gospel. The desire to make the perfect liberal Church of England has led some, who are entrusted to be leaders of the Church, down a very illiberal, imperfect, unforgiving and unattractive path.

Christopher Morgan’s article that appeared in the Sunday Times on the 31st of October reporting the Bishop of Salisbury’s comments that faithful Anglicans who cannot accept the ordination of women should leave, is but a sign of the loveless, liberal fascism that depresses so many clergy on either side of the ordination fence and that depression acts like a cancer, gradually but constantly sucking the life blood of the Church, scarring the living image of Christ and making our mission to our nation impotent. We are in as much danger of wounding Christ today, if we fail to find a solution to the problems facing the Established Church, as those who wounded Christ as they lit the hateful and barbaric fires and burnt the faithful of both sides in the first Reformation.

My fear for the future was crystallised when I was asked by a journalist whether the issue was really worth putting my livelihood in jeopardy. I made a feeble attempt to say, for me, the ordination of women remains an open and fair question and may indeed be God’s will. However, like the formation of both Scripture and the Creed, the formation of the three fold ministry, Bishop, Priest and Deacon, was developed over many years and tested by a wider forum than one particular Church, in one particular culture and in such a short space of time. I remain deeply apprehensive when separate provinces of the Anglican Church take unilateral decisions on matters of scripture, creed and ministry, especially when our ecumenical brothers and sisters, both Orthodox and Roman Catholic, who make up 75% of the Christian community, warn us about creating yet more barriers against possible unity.

Pragmatically the Church of England has ordained women to the priesthood and in fairness they will ordain women to the Episcopate and time will tell whether or not it was the right course of action. Many will say that to disagree with this action because of conscience will necessitate the offender to be removed from the Church even though no baptism or ordination vow will have been broken and the offender’s desire to serve Christ will not have been diminished.

Leading liberal lobbyists, like Dr Giles Fraser and the Inclusive Movement (sic), would have us take a series of tests to see if we are fit to remain in the church. The tests would expect, as I understand it, all Anglicans to support the ordination of women and the ordination to the episcopate of sexually active homosexuals – an issue which the wider church has scarcely begun to debate.

Far better to have an additional province with good relations with Canterbury and York than to make martyrs. Far better for an additional province, still part of the Church of England, to express in a different way the gifts of God and with the possibility of being a fruitful vehicle for ecumenical dialogue.

I have been greatly encouraged by both Lord Carey’s and our present Archbishops’ desire to find a way through the challenges that we all are faced with and their honest desire to engage theologically with those they disagree with. I have been encouraged by the generosity that many women who have been ordained have shown me even though they know of my reservations. However, I have been saddened /sickened by those who have shown their paramount desire for a Liberal Reformation at any cost. This has led me to see an unthinkable future of an ungenerous and unforgiving Church.

If you are not concerned at this prospect ‘You should be.’

David Lashbrooke ssc is Vicar S Mary the Virgin, Saint Marychurch